If you’re considering moving abroad with your cat, you have a lot of work cut out for you. Moving from the United States to Europe (Netherlands to Belgium to Romania to France) with my cat has been interesting to say the least. If you want to bring your cat with you when you move abroad, there are some important things to consider. That said, if you’re not moving abroad, but only traveling abroad with your cat, there will be some helpful cat travel tips here.
I absolutely love my cat, who was adopted from a shelter in the United States for $5 if you can believe it. Moving abroad with my cat was not easy, but it’s been rewarding to have her with me most steps along the way. Keep reading for my tips about traveling overseas with your cat.
This is a more general guide, so if you’re looking for country specific regulations, it’s best to contact the animal authority for the country that you’re flying to for more detailed information.
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Your plans matter. Not all cats will be stressed by travel, however many cats will be stressed out by travel.
You know your cat and you know how long it takes for them to get comfortable in a new place. If you’re traveling for a short amount of time (e.g. 1-2 months), is this enough time for your cat to get comfortable, even if you’re in the same apartment for the entire period? My cat is quite good at adapting to a new place quickly although the sheer act of transporting her anywhere new terrifies her badly enough that she refuses to go near her carrier. For some cats, one month in a location may be too little as adapting to a new apartment can be difficult.
Get a calming spray for your cat
For my cat, we use the Feliway calming spray for cats to help calm my cat when traveling. I do not recommend using a sedative for cats unless advised by your vet as it’s a disorienting experience for them. This calming spray for cats helps a bit, however, it’s not ...magic. It is a minor improvement as I can still tell that my cat is stressed while traveling. I've also tried the calming treats, but they did not work with my cat.
A good cat carrier is essential for international travel with a cat.
I've traveled a lot with my cat and having a good cat carrier good for international travel has been important for traveling through airports. I consider having a comfortable place for your cat to be important, especially if your cat carrier is airline approved. After having a carrier that my cat kept managing to escape from, I bought the ARGO cat carrier, which is perfect for traveling with larger cats and still falls under the dimensions for most airplane approved cat carriers. Keep in mind that many airlines require that your cat has enough space to walk around the carrier. That said, if your cat is above a certain weight, there might be additional regulations depending on the airline.
For me, I also wanted a cat carrier that looked more duffel-bag like as my previous carrier made it very obvious that I was traveling with a cat, which was an issue for the buses that I'd travel on with my cat that technically did not allow cats (oops). It also comes with a lot of pockets, which I use for food, paperwork, and foldable travel bowls. Most importantly, it needed to have a comfy bottom and a leash within the bag to ensure that my cat couldn't break out on her own.
What is your pace and how many countries are you visiting with your cat?
Some cats are fine with a quicker pace although many cats (including my own) require at least a few weeks in a single apartment to start feeling at home. Some cats like to travel on road trips (including the cat that I had throughout my childhood who loved to look out the window) while others meow/panic the whole way through (like Lu). Your means of transport and where you’re traveling has a large impact on the degree of paperwork that you’ll need to do, so I recommend spending at least 4 days in any given country to give yourself time to take care of paperwork as needed.
If you’re planning on going at a fast pace, I truly recommend rethinking if you should be bringing your cat on vacation with you. Will your cat enjoy the travel? If you have an active trip where you’re unsure if your cat can handle multiple day trips or multi-day travel, it’s good to look for pet sitters, cat hotels, vets or friends to help you take care of your cat while you’re away. I’ve often used a service called Pawshake for finding a reliable cat sitter while I’ve been away while others who own property rave about Trusted Housesitters. (Trusted Housesitters doesn't work as well if you're renting and I realized that I could be thrown out of my apartment if I did it.) Similarly, you can also bring your cat to a cat kennel. I recently did this for my trip to Albania where we had a busy schedule over a week. Just to be note: Bringing your cat to a kennel may require additional shots/paperwork, so ask them ahead what you’ll need to do to bring your cat to the kennel.
Plan for a lot of paperwork if you'll be traveling internationally with your cat.
Keep in mind that if you’re intending on traveling with a cat, you’re going to probably need to adapt your pace to getting paperwork done (more time consuming than you realize). For me, the hardest step was getting my cat to the EU prior to getting her a EU pet passport. However, prior to any airplane travel in the EU, my cat is supposed to get an health examination 36 hours before she flies within the EU. Leaving the EU with a cat can result in problems as it varies so much by country. For the UK, not having the proper documentation can result in your cat getting quarantined while for Albania, it required minimal paperwork beyond the plane ride. However, bringing a cat back into the EU after leaving the EU was such a headache and we ended up changing our travel plans to leave her at a kennel in the Netherlands.
Traveling with my cat from the United States to Europe required the most intensive paperwork as it required several appointments as well as getting the paperwork that needed to be done shortly before the flight USDA-approved, which required me to go to an obscure office by JFK to get the paperwork stamped.
Check the steps for where you are going--and double the amount of time that you think you need to organize it. Getting the right documents for traveling with your cat will be much more time consuming than you may realize as it took me 4 different appointments to get the paperwork required to fly with my cat from the United States to Europe (Netherlands). Some of it was on a tight deadline due to the pet travel regulations.
Does your cat need to come with you? How long are you traveling for?
If you’re only traveling for a short time, consider leaving your cat in the care of a trusted friend or relative. However, it breaks my heart whenever I read about people leaving their pets with family members when they move abroad. If you’re planning on moving for more than a year, I strongly recommend looking into the logistics of moving abroad with your cat. For six months to a year, I think you need to think about your lifestyle during this time to take the right decision.
If you're flying, is your airline cat-friendly?
By cat-friendly airlines, I specifically mean an airline that allows your cat to be in the cabin with you. Fatalities are higher than you’d expect among pets carried in the hold and if your cat is half as anxious as mine is about flying, don’t leave them in the hold to panic. I had a fantastic experience with Blueair and Aeroflot. It does take extra paperwork and you’ll need to book a pet ticket. The airlines that I’ve taken with my cat so far have been very clear on their website about the cat airline travel requirements.
A friend of mine moved with one dog and two cats. She paid for a friend's round-trip ticket to Europe to bring her cat on the plane (her and her husband carried the two other pets at their feet) as it was cheaper than going through a pet travel agency to bring her cat from the United States to the Netherlands. It also allowed her to ensure that all her pets arrived at the same time. Most airlines that allow cats allow one pet per person if they're small.
Abide by the pet laws of the mode of transport, your country of origin, and your destination.
Much of bringing your pet to another country is dependent on the pet’s country of origin and your intended destination. If you’re coming from a country with a high incidence of rabies, you will need to take special precautions to ensure that your pet is allowed into a new country. However, if you’re coming from a country like the US with the intention of bringing your cat to the the Netherlands, you will need to abide by both American, European Union, and Dutch laws. This makes things complicated and this is why you need to do your research if you want to bring your cat to a new country without paying an agency.
Getting reliable information about the mode of transport is best done BEFORE you book transportation with a cat, so if you're considering doing a ferry with your pet, call first to double-check that it's allowed. Before you say, but I can sneak my pet over, if you're going over a border with a ferry, it will not be good when you decide to leave this country with your pet if you smuggle it in. Please don't smuggle your pet into another country.
Ensure that your cat is microchipped with a rabies vaccination months ahead.
There is a proper order to microchipping and vaccines, so check with a vet after informing them that you intend to travel abroad with your cat. Keep in mind that this is typically the bare minimum for traveling with a cat and you’ll need your cat’s entire pet history for some international travel with cats. You'll need at least one month, if not two months (or more), if your cat does not have the proper documents to prepare it for travel.
Know about the cultural assumptions around cats in the country that you want to move to.
Are cats embraced as part of the culture (like in Turkey and the Netherlands) or a pest? Unfortunately many developing countries have high rabies incidents, so letting your cat outside may expose your cat to additional disease. Some countries are not into cats in the same that others are, so having a cat is weird and finding an apartment with a cat will be harder. However, in some countries, they really don't care or just adore cats. (We had a great experience in Romania where the owner of the apartment was delighted by our cat.)
Take into account the housing market where you want to move.
Is it normal/okay to have a cat? Will you need to pay additional fees to ensure that you can keep your cat there and/or will having a cat make finding an apartment/house difficult? This is especially true if you’re renting and you’re a new expat. In many European countries, the housing market can be tight and having a pet is often grounds for denial. Be prepared to pay higher housing prices to ensure that your cat is allowed in the apartment.
The repercussions of not clearing your cat with your landlord and/or bringing your cat in with a no pets lease may result in you getting evicted, so tread carefully before assuming it will be okay. It’s best to make a local contact to find out how cats are treated where you are moving.
Think about where you’ll be staying (Is it cat proof?)
It’s very difficult to find the perfect apartment for cats when moving abroad. I’ve now lived in numerous apartments with my cat abroad. It’s been a mixed bag with some apartments being perfect for her with lots of cozy places for my cat to sleep with other apartments giving my cat nowhere to hide. Similarly, not having screens in the windows has been an issue in several European apartments, including our current one. Right now, we’re on the 5th floor and it’s a sheer drop. Although I don’t think my cat is stupid enough to go out on the ledge, we’ve had to keep the window shut 24/7, even with the Parisian humidity, as the only way to open the window is to open the windows all the way. Also, check for small holes into pipes or air-conditioning closets. My cat managed to break into the air conditioning closet that had a 3 story drop into the foundation at the end of it. It was a problem until we cat-proofed the door.
Do you let your cat outside?
This might become an issue depending on where you’re moving abroad with your cat. In many countries, including the United States, the idea that a house cat roams outside is weird and considered to be a bit abusive. The shelter that I adopted my cat from actually put this as a grounds for an adoption denial. However, in many countries, it’s normal if your cat roams freely outside. It’s good to know ahead what the standard is.
What you need to know about flying with a cat
Flying with a cat often requires taking your cat out of its carrier and taking off its collar to go through security. If your cat is the type to RUN when it gets terrified, be aware that the security procedures for flying can be very stressful for your cat--and the act of flying with a cat is very stressful for them. Try to minimize flying with your cat whenever possible. Be sure to get calming sprays.
Before your flight, you'll need to cut off your cat's food about six hours before. Definitely carry some water with you as they can get dehydrated, but try to limit it a bit as they'll need the bathroom.
You're not supposed to open your cat carrier once you're on the plane. It depends on the airline how strict it is, however if you're flying with a cat, you're obligated to ask anyone else in the nearby rows if they're allergic as they sit down. If you've booked a ticket and they object, the flight attendants will be happy to help.
Finding a vet abroad for your cat
Finding a vet abroad for your cat can be easy or hard depending on where you’re going. If you do not speak the local language, it’s best to ask in expat groups about the best expat vet to ensure that you have clear communication. At least within Europe, I’ve used Google Maps to look for nearby vets prior to looking at their website. It is a good sign if their website is partially in English, but it’s best to call first to determine if they know your language before you bring your cat there I consider it a good sign if the vet can talk with you on the phone in English. Luckily, all of the vets that I’ve taken my cat to abroad spoke good enough English that we had no problems, but I cannot promise that it will be that easy elsewhere. (It's good to ask a friendly local who knows English for their favorite vet.)
Have you traveled abroad with your cat? What do you wish you thought about beforehand?
Karen and Jacob. American expats and cat lovers from New York City and Kentucky who lived in Amsterdam.... Now in Paris with moving back to the Netherlands this month.
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